Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 1 of 6

After 128 A.D. Dacia

Kairos 91: Mother Greta, Woman of the Ways

Recording …

Greta woke, sweating.  Nightmares, she thought.  Then she thought she needed to lose about twenty pounds.  She sat up in bed.

Her mind shot first to her children, Gaius, Marta, Marcus, and little Hildi.  Gaius became a handful when he turned eleven, but he remained her good son.  He did what she asked of him, if she could pry him loose from his friends.  Marta turned eight and could not decide if she wanted to be rough and tough or sweet.  She was a pretty one.  Sweet suited her better.  Marcus turned five.  He was her troublemaker.  But he was smart, her own slick little bean.  She saw his hands all over trouble, but he rarely got caught.  Hildi entered her terrible twos and they were as terrible as reported. Greta concluded that she did not wake because of the children.  If there was a problem, their nurse Selamine would come to fetch her.

Greta put her hand on Darius’ shoulder.  He turned on his side, away from her.  She did not mind.  When he slept on his side, he did not snore so much.

Her mind turned to her father.  Mother brought him to Ravenshold when he suffered his stroke.  Mother brought him to Mother Greta to see what could be done.  Mother Greta was the Woman of the Ways for all of the Dacian people.  She was the only one in the whole province.  The Romans called her the Wise Woman of the Dacians.  The Celts called her a Druid.  She could read and speak a half-dozen languages.  She remembered the stories—the history of her people, and in the telling, provided social cohesion to the disparate people in the province.  People, from the lowest slaves to the greatest chiefs came to her for counsel.  She taught healers and midwives and served as apothecary and physician wherever there was need.  But she could do nothing for her own father.

Mother cried but understood.  They could make him comfortable, but he would not live long.  The thing is, if he was a simple farmer, or even the chief of the Tibiscum tribe in and around the town of Boarshag, people would mourn, and that would be the end of it.  But that was not the case.  Greta’s father was the high chief of the Dacians, elected twelve years earlier by representatives of the many tribes that made up the Dacian people.  The Romans refused the title, king.  He was technically the high chief.  But the Romans allowed that for the sake of stability and to maintain peace in the province.  And he did his job, but he could not control the future once he died.

Mother Greta trained since childhood under the former Woman of the Ways.  Mother Hulda taught her many things, including how to read the signs of the times, and extend her little bit of magic into the wind to see what she might see.  Greta saw the sparks of anger and resentment against the Romans, and the thousands of Romans that moved into the province since Trajan.  Ulpia Traiana, the capital that most Dacians still called by the old village name, Ravenshold, called Sarmizegetuza on some maps out of deference to the old Dacian capital, though it was not the old Dacian capital, was in truth a Colonia of Romans laid over the top of the old village.  There would be peace in Ulpia Traiana—in Roman populated Ravenshold.  But the rest of the province was another story.

Greta closed her eyes and held out her hand as if that might clarify her feelings.  She suspected rebellion might come once her father died.  The only thing that made the people hesitate was fear, not of Roman retribution, but fear of the tens of thousands of Scythians and other Iranian descended tribes that pressed in on the border—not to mention the Germanic tribes, like the Quadi and Macromanni, and the Goths—not to mention the more distant Slavs.  The question became whether anger and hatred of the Romans or fear of being overrun by barbarians would win out.

Greta rolled out of bed and went to her desk.  She got out a piece of velum, a jar of ink that looked mostly liquid, and a quill—the sharpest she could find.  She would write a letter to Marcus Aurelius, Darius’ childhood friend.  Marcus’ adopted father, Antoninus, was the Roman Emperor.  She guessed it might be 157.  She turned twenty-nine earlier in the year.  Now, the summer was nearly over.  She paused and looked at the side door.

Mavis, her handmaid, her elf-maid in her little alcove room was awake, no doubt.  It had been a struggle, but after many years, Mavis learned to keep to herself and only come when called.  Thank goodness.  She put her quill to the paper.

Dearest Marcus,

Allow me once again to congratulate the Emperor, Antoninus Pius, your father, for appointing Marcus Sedatius Severianus at the end of 151 as a replacement for General Pontius over L XIII G., and to replace my husband Darius as governor of the province.  The man had a brain and a heart and was not slow to take advantage of our drubbing of the Iranian tribes and Scythians in the north, at Porolissum.  Between Marcus, Darius, and my father, the province has known peace and prosperity these six years, and much of that prosperity has flowed to Rome to enrich the empire.

Having praised you and your father, please allow me to point out that your new governor, Marcus Statius Priscus Licinius Italicus…  Greta paused to make sure she got all the names correct.  …is a moron, and a harsh, cruel, insensitive jerk who may be perfect for the empire somewhere else but is all wrong here.   Instead of supporting the peace and prosperity of the people, he is driving the people to anger and hatred for Rome and Romans.  I am sure that is not what you want.  Please do not be surprised if the people rise up and kick the A-hole out on his A-hole.

Greta read what she wrote so far, before she finished.  My father has suffered a stroke.  He will not live long.  I cannot vouch for what the people may do when he is gone.  Consider this your warning.  Please consider it also my plea for your father to have mercy on my people should that prove necessary.  Remember that they are not responsible for the intolerable situation they are in.  For the stubborn mule that is Dacia, the carrot works better than the stick.  Besides, given our exposure, you can be sure the Lazyges, Roxolani, Costoboci, and many others are just waiting to see us divided and fighting one another.

Marcus.  I pray all are well with you and yours.

Your friend,

Mother Greta

The moment she signed her letter, Greta fell into a vision.  Mother Greta was well known for having visions of what was to come.  She managed to fall gently to the floor.  She also managed to whisper “Mavis.”  Her elf heard and came running.  After only a moment, Darius woke and carried her to bed, but Greta focused on something else.

Lincoln, Alexis, Sukki, Katie, and Lockhart stood in a courtyard behind a makeshift fort, firing their weapons at an enemy.  Romans and Dacians stood with them making a wall around the civilians behind them.  The soldiers kept their javelins and swords in hand to face whatever got close.  The fort consisted of a tipped over table, several chairs, and a dresser.  The view pulled back.  Greta saw giant vipers, and giant rats with them.  The view pulled further back.

“Where are the others?” Greta yelled, even as she saw they were in a town.  “Rhiannon,” her heart shouted for help.  She imagined in the north.  “Rhiannon.”  They were in an old fort of some kind.  She spoke out loud.  “Where are the others?”

“The other what?” Darius asked.

Greta opened her eyes.  Her hand grabbed Darius by the arm.  “We have to go,” she said.  “We have to go yesterday.  Mavis…”

“I’ll start packing,” Mavis did not question the order, but Darius did.  

“Go where?  What about your father?  What about the children?”

“Mother,” Greta said, as if that answered everything.  “Mavis, get the troop up and ready.”

“Yes, Lady.”

“Go where?”  Darius blocked her way.

“North.  I thought the giant spiders were the work of the witch.  Apparently not.”  She stepped around him to get to her dresser.  She paused to calculate distance and days of travel and made an educated guess where the time gate might be.  She closed her eyes and let her thoughts reach out seven days ride to the north.  Chip and Snowflake sometimes visited in her brother Bragi’s house.  She needed them to gather the winter fairies, to search and find the travelers, and guide them safely to Bragi and Karina’s house in Porolissum.

Greta cut the connection to the fairies.  She began to weave, feeling dizzy.  She put her hand to her head.

“Greta?” Darius reached out and held her up.

“I’m fine,” she said and went back to her packing.  “I’m just going to get a monster headache.”

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 6 of 6

“Bodies,” Decker reported what they could all see.  The few men they saw looked shredded.  The Wolv they saw appeared dead, or at least not moving.

“I don’t see movement in the fort.”  Lockhart looked through Katie’s binoculars.

“I see… Thirty some Wolv in the trees by their ship,” Elder Stow said.  “My guess is the EMP worked, and they are trying to figure out what to do about it, now that thy are vulnerable.”

“Visitors,” Boston said, and added the words, “Friendlies.”  Katie sensed them and pushed up beside Boston to block the view in case Decker or Lockhart thought to shoot first and ask questions later.

Boffo, the dwarf came from the trees, holding tight to an iron bar.  It looked like a duplicate of the one Schaibo carried, but it looked like it fit Boffo’s big hand.  Maruf the cobbler led the three women out of the trees and on to the road.  Princess Nuronnihar looked terribly frightened and confused.  Almeria and Peribonou came holding hands, while Jasmine rode on Almeria’s shoulder and held tight to Almeria’s rich, black hair.  Aemir the elf chief followed, while Cedar, still holding the EMP transmitter, fluttered up to Baba.

“We did just like you said,” Cedar reported.  “We got here just before the Wolv charged, and Jasmine was very brave to press the button.”  He handed the device back to Baba as Aemir took up the tale.

“We had their instruments fooled, but they must have picked up traces of the metal used in your guns.  They found us by visual sighting.  Sorry we couldn’t make the whole camp invisible.”

“Survivors?” Lockhart asked.

“Mostly,” Aemir answered.

“We got the women out while the Wolv danced,” Maruf said.

Baba explained. “When their personal screens burned out, they probably got a bad case of electrical shock.”

“Their charge did not go as expected,” Boffo said, and grinned.

“I got people left and right,” Aemir continued.  “They won’t be able to flank the camp, if that is what they are thinking.”

“Right,” Baba said.  “Almeria, take my horse—Tony’s horse.”

“And what are you thinking?” Almeria asked, sharply, as Baba gave her a quick kiss and showed her how to use the stirrup.  

“Princess get up behind Boston.  She will keep you in your seat.  Peri get behind Sukki.  You all need to ride back to the wagon.  Peri, you need to talk to Alexis.  She used to be an elf and became human to marry.  I’ll get up behind Lockhart. Maruf with Decker.  Aemir with Elder Stow.  It is open ground, but if Elder Stow can manage a wall screen on our side, the rest of us can make a dash for the castellum.”

“Boss,” Boston protested.

“No arguments,” Lockhart said.

“Boston,” Baba continued.  “You need to keep your senses flared in case a group of Wolv break away to follow you.  You have your Beretta, and Sukki has the power in her hands to protect you, if that should be necessary.”

“I don’t think we have time for that,” Elder Stow interrupted the plan.  “We have eight or nine sneaking up on our flank, and the rest, maybe twenty-six or twenty-seven look ready to charge the fort.

“Damn,” Baba said.  “Maruf, take the rest of the horses back into the woods to keep them out of the line of fire.  Cedar and Jasmine get big to help with the horses, please.  Keep them calm and quiet… Well?”  He looked at Boston, who all but growled at him.

“Come on,” Boston shouted, and led the women back the way they came.

Baba turned to the travelers.  “Elder Stow?”

“Just a minute… There.  The screens are set around us and the horses.  The women have moved out of range, but we should be safe.  They should not be able to get at us.”

“Good.  Decker, Katie, and Elder Stow focus your fire on the ones charging the fort.  Lockhart, Maruf, Aemir, and I will deal with the ones that come up to the screen.”  He called and became clothed in the armor of the Kairos, sword over his shoulder and long knife across the small of his back.  He left his helmet, shield, spear, and the cape of Athena on Avalon, but he could call to them if he needed them.

“And Elder Stow,” Lockhart added.  “Please take the safety off your weapon this time.”

“Automatic,” Decker said, interrupting Elder Stow’s grumpy response. “Three round bursts,”

“Sir,” Katie acknowledged that she heard.

Baba and Maruf loaded their primitive rifles.  They fired a good-sized mini ball with enough force to penetrate armor, though not nearly with the force of Lockhart’s shotgun.  Aemir and Cedar got out their wands, but they were not sure what they could do, exactly.

The Wolv sneaking through the woods divided when they saw the horses ride out.  Four came to the screened travelers, not knowing about the screens.  Four chased the horses.

Boston rode at a fast trot, but did not push them to gallop, wary of their passengers.  Peri enjoyed the ride behind Sukki, though the Princess screamed in Boston’s ear, shut her eyes, and held on to Boston for dear life.  Almeria kept up on Tony’s horse, not because she was a great horsewoman, but because the horse stayed with the group.  They got less than five minutes away when they saw two riders coming toward them.  Lincoln and Nanette stopped in an open field as the others rode up.

“Tony and Alexis have the wagon,” Lincoln shouted.

“Look out!” Nanette shouted and pointed.  The Wolv were able to move fast enough through the woods to catch the horses.  They came racing across the meadow, and people reacted.  Lincoln and Boston pulled out their handguns and both managed to fire on the same Wolv.  It ran out front.  It eventually stumbled, and with enough bullets in it, it collapsed.  Boston whipped out her wand and turned her flamethrower on the beast, just to be sure.  Lincoln turned on the other two.

One attacked Sukki on the left side, and the other ran around to the right.  Sukki screamed, not being able to turn her power in both directions.  She did not know if she could turn the power on.  She did not know what she was doing. She panicked, and the power came from her hands, outstretched to hold off the beast, much like it did before, only this time the whole mid-section of the beast turned to dust and ashes.  The head and legs fell.

Nanette screamed.  She had her wand but did not know what she was doing any more than Sukki.  The Wolv to Sukki’s other side leapt.  It kept going up, until it floated twenty feet in the air.  It clawed and scratched at the air, and roared, but could not come back down.  Lincoln fired, over and over, and Boston had to distract Nanette with a word of praise.

“All right, sister!”

“I panicked,” Nanette admitted, as the dead Wolv crashed to the ground.

“I panicked first,” Sukki said.

“No, I did, as soon as I saw them,” Nanette countered.

“No, as soon as we started riding to escape,” Sukki insisted.

“God,” Boston interrupted.  “I love having sisters.”

The group turned and found the wagon not far away.  They also found another Wolv body.  Tony shouted to them.  “Alexis held it back with her wind, and I shot it with all six bullets in my gun.  Alexis told me there were more bullets, so I shot it three more times, and twice more after I got down to make sure it was dead.  I checked.  The gun is still fully loaded.  What kind of magic can do that?”

Lincoln shrugged.  “The gun will never run out of bullets.  We have had that grace since the beginning, like Alexis’ never-ending vitamins and the never-ending bread crackers.  Just keep in mind, the gun can still overheat and break if you abuse it.”

Tony nodded, looked at his handgun and said, “I wonder how the others are doing.”

The others, at that moment, were destroying the Wolv charge.  Decker, Katie, and Elder Stow dropped one after another of the beasts as they raced across the field.  Nothing came from the makeshift fort until the Wolv nearly arrived at the palisade.  Then they heard the orders shouted.  A volley from fifteen rifles put holes in about ten of the beasts.

“Second row.  Ready.  Fire.”  They heard the echo through Elder Stow’s screens.  A second volley of fifteen rifles fired, and the charge of the Wolv stalled before they could get their claws on the wooden stakes that made the palisade. The Wolv might have torn through that wood like paper.  They heard, “Third row…” but it got interrupted by the sound of Lockhart’s shotgun, and the two rifles behind them.  Baba shot a big hole in the middle of one. It would not live long. Maruf caught one in the face.  Lockhart blasted a Wolv back to slam into a tree and added a second blast just to be sure.

Aemir managed to raise a root from the ground over which the last Wolv tripped.  The Wolv slammed his face into Elder Stow’s screens, and found his foot tangled in the root.  While it clawed at the root to get free, Lockhart came over and blasted it, twice.  He made sure the rest were dead even as the Wolv attacking the fort turned to attack the travelers.  Some semi-bright Wolv decided the travelers posed the bigger threat.  Between Decker, Katie, and Elder Stow, none of the Wolv made it as far as the screens.

The Romans and Parthians came out from the fort holding javelins and swords, and very few rifles.  They planned to make sure the Wolv were dead.  The Arabs and Persians wisely stayed behind the palisade.

“Elder Stow, the ship?”  Baba asked, and Elder Stow put down his weapon and pulled up his scanner.

“No sign of engines working.  I am guessing most, if not all of the systems have burned out.  They are probably repairable if the Wolv haven’t torn them apart.”  He paused before he added, “I see three Wolv still aboard.  Probably as near as they have to engineers.”

Baba nodded.  “’l will need you, Boffo, with Schaibo and Boston when they get here, to go invisible and clean the Wolv out of the ship, if you don’t mind.  I’m sure Boffo is disappointed at not using his iron bar.”

“Actually,” Boffo said.  “I am not like Schaibo.  I have no need to smash things.”

“Awe, come on,” Baba said, and patted the oversized dwarf on the arm.  “Hulk smash.  You need to practice that.”

###

When the others arrived, Ali Baba gave them a purse of gold and silver coins, mostly Parthian, but some Roman.  They volunteered to stay and help him repair the ship, but he turned them down. “I’m going to give it ten days,” he said.  “If I can get it in flight, I’ll take this crew to Moesia.  I have to gather the legions to face the main body of Wolv there, though I feel better about our chances now than I did before, knowing that we can short out their personal screens and their weapons.”

“What are the odds?” Boston asked.

“Four legions, with auxiliaries make about twenty-four thousand men against five or six thousand Wolv.  That may not be enough men.  But anyway, don’t dawdle.  You have ten days to reach the next time gate.  Don’t worry.  We will watch through Prince Ali’s tube.  I won’t leave and shift the time gate until you are gone.”

“See you next time,” Katie said, and everyone waved.

************************

MONDAY

The travelers catch up to a friend of regular readers of this blog. They find Greta, Woman of thee Ways of the Dacian people, or she find them. The Wraith also finds them… Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 5 of 6

“I remember the thousand and one nights,” Alexis finally admitted, softly.  Nanette rode to her right and Lincoln to her left.  Tony had the wagon, and Katie and Lockhart, with Baba behind him, rode out front in their own conversation.  Schaibo ran ahead with Boston and Sukki where they presumably could not hear.

“What?” Lincoln asked.

“Ali, the middle son, won the archery contest and married Princess Nuronnihar.  Hussain, the older son became a priest, like his father.  Sasan was a priest before he took the Persian throne.  Ahmed, the youngest son, secretly married a fairy—a Peri, Peribonou.  She is, or was, a tulip fairy.  When Ahmed’s father, King Sasan finds out, he starts making all sorts of unreasonable demands of his son.  Sasan gets paranoid.  He fears his son will dethrone him.  Sadly, one of the demands is Ahmed should find an extra-small man with a beard longer than himself who carries an iron staff.  Schaibo shows up, gets ridiculed, and uses his iron staff on the king and most of the court.  He gives Ahmed and Peribonou the throne.  Peribonou is his sister, I think.”

“Half-sister,” Nanette said.  “Same fairy father, but fairy and dwarf mothers.”

“That may be why Schaibo is so short,” Lincoln suggested.  “Fairy father,” he clarified.

Alexis nodded, but then shook her head.  “Maybe.  But no.  The world of the little spirits of the earth usually doesn’t follow logically like that.  But the point is, it has not happened yet.  We can’t say anything.  I get the feeling Ahmed’s father hasn’t found out yet about his marriage.  I probably should not have told you.  Benjamin, you can’t let on that you know anything.”

“Don’t worry,” Lincoln said.  “I have read lots of things in the database and kept my mouth closed.  They won’t hear it from me.”

 “I won’t say anything,” Nanette said.  She dropped her voce and her eyes.

“I almost wish you would,” Alexis told her.  “Tony doesn’t say much, but neither do Lockhart, Decker, or Elder Stow.  Most males are not talkers.  You can’t judge men by my blabbermouth husband, Benjamin.”

“Witch,” Lincoln returned the compliment.  Alexis gave him a hard look.  “Of course, my lovely witch wife is smart.  You should listen when she talks,” Lincoln added, and Alexis smiled for him.

“I won’t say anything about the thousand and one nights, but I understand what you are saying,” Nanette said.  “I was a talker back home.  I learned to talk around the Romans, once the Professor explained that being shy only made me more alluring to the powerful people there.”

“So, what is the problem with us?” Alexis asked.  “Even Benjamin’s a likeable fellow.”

“And I underline, witch,” Lincoln said, and returned Alexis’ smile.

Nanette shook her head.  She noticed the horses stopped moving, as Lockhart and Katie stopped.  Boston and Sukki, with Schaibo were returning from the front, and people were dismounting to walk the horses for a while.  Nanette got down, but Alexis was not going to let her go without a word.

“So, what is it?” Alexis asked.

Nanette found a tear in her eye but held it back.  “I’m still coming to grips with the fact that you are all, mostly, white people, and I’m a black woman, but you treat me like an equal.  I grew up in 1900.  My grandmother was a slave.  I’ve never been friends with real white people before.  Even the professor and the others treated me more like a servant than a friend.  They did not mean bad.  It was just the way they thought—the way we thought.  But now, I have seen how much you like and respect Decker, though he is a black man.  You treat him like an accomplished soldier, like the military colonel he is, and without any hesitation.”

“More like family, as Elder Stow would say,” Lincoln interjected.  “But don’t tell him I said that.”  Nanette nodded, dropped a couple of tears, but then laughed as she thought about it.  Alexis stepped up and hugged Nanette.  Katie, Lockhart, and Baba watched, as Katie spoke her mind.

“We are from a hundred years after your day, but you see, we have learned a thing or two,” she said.  “America is something the world has never seen before.  We have struggled with the old way of doing things.  The struggle against slavery got bloody.  But free and equal is the way we are all trying to be, even from the beginning of America.  There are some in our day that refuse to let go of the old way of thinking.  They want to keep us divided by race, sex, religion, and money and success, and all that—what they call identity politics, though most realize outward things like skin color do not make a person…”

Lockhart nodded.  “Some people think they are smarter than others, and deserve to run things, and that ordinary Americans are stupid.”

“We call them Democrats,” Lincoln interjected, and Alexis nudged his shoulder.  

“…But most people just want to be good neighbors and don’t let race, color, creed, or social or economic circumstances and all that get in the way,” Katie finished.

Alexis added, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ, the apostle said.”

“I remember that quote,” Baba said, and smiled at some memory.

Boston ran up and hugged Nanette, clearly having heard some of the conversation.  “Welcome to the family,” she said.  “Now you can be sisters with me and Sukki.  I never had sisters before.  I grew up with a bunch of brothers.”

“An offer from an elf—” Alexis began.

“—You can’t turn that down,” Sukki interrupted.

Nanette nodded and kept back the tears as Lockhart shouted at the sky. “Lunch.”

“I’ll get the leftovers from the wagon,” Alexis said.

“I’ll help,” Sukki and Nanette said together, and smiled at each other, and looked at Boston.

“No.  You don’t want her to help,” Alexis said, sounding like a mom.

Boston stuck her tongue out at Alexis, and said, “Fine.  I’ll get the fire started.”

“We go with our strengths,” Decker said, as he rode up.

Katie turned to Lincoln.  “And we need to check a couple of horseshoes.  I think Robert’s horse picked up a stone.”

Lunch did not take long.  They just ate up what they had.

“Not much of a lunch,” Schaibo described it after they finished, and tried hard not to complain about the meager repast.

“You’re a dwarf,” Boston teased.  “Since when are you not hungry?”

Schaibo grinned at the thought.  “I like you, too, Miss Boston.  Even if you are an uppity elf.”

The others ignored them.

“My boss is a black woman,” Lockhart said, having finally thought of something to say.

“Wait,” Tony objected.  “I thought you worked for the Men in Black, whoever they are.  How can a woman be a Man in Black?”

“Good lawyer, too,” Alexis added.

“Well, obviously, she is not a man,” Lincoln said.

“A lawyer?” Nanette sounded surprised.

“But she is black,” Baba said, and smiled again at some more memories.

“Bobbi, er, Roberta,” Lockhart named her.

“We recruited her out of the FBI,” Lincoln said.

“Wait,” Tony started again.  “FBI?”

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation.  They are like federal detectives.” Lockhart explained

“A woman detective?” Tony asked

“A black woman, who is a lawyer and an FBI detective?” Nanette shook her head in disbelief.

“Like I said earlier,” Katie spoke to Nanette.  “We learned a few things in the hundred years since your day.”

Nanette would have to think about it all.

After lunch, Nanette tied her horse to the wagon, while the others packed to travel.  She would ride with Tony to Lord Baba’s camp.  She stepped out from the others to think about where they might be headed.  They had a long way to go to reach the nineteenth, or rather the twentieth century.

Nanette stood in a field of yellow flowers under a blue sky, and decided it looked like the place she grew up.  She tried to imagine being home.  Her mother would wonder where she had been for the last seven—more like nine or ten years by the time she got home.  She wondered if her mother would like Decker.  She wondered how Venus imagined that would work since her experiences and his were separated by a hundred years.  Where would they live?  She could not imagine following him into the future.

Nanette shrugged off her worries.  She would trust God to work things out.  Besides, they might not survive the journey.  None of her worries might matter.  They had a road to travel, first.  She looked in the direction they headed, held out her hands and closed her eyes to try and glimpse where they were headed.  She screamed, over and over.

It took a few moments for the group to calm her down enough to get a word out of her.  She looked at Decker.

“The Wolv.  They found the camp.  The big ship is coming.”  She turned to Baba.  “The Wolv think,” she said, and barely kept from screaming again.

Katie extended her elect senses in the right direction.  “I sense something, but nothing clear.  They are not a threat to us, yet.”

Boston looked with her elf senses, and caught the thoughts of Aemir, the chief little one in the camp.  Aemir warned the people there, who immediately took up positions behind the makeshift Roman palisade.

Lockhart said, “Damn.”

Baba reacted.  “Boston?”

“Aemir is warned,” Boston said.

“Elder Stow?”

“The scout-transport is still too far for details, but I am picking up an energy signature, like they are charging the engines for flight.”

Baba turned to the group.  “Schaibo, stay with the wagon and guard the people.  Lincoln, Alexis, Nanette, and Tony, bring the wagon, and Tony, let me borrow your horse.  The rest of us need to ride.  Elder Stow, bring the transmitter we have worked on.”  He marched off to Tony’s horse, and the rest got ready as quickly as they could.

They had something like a road, so the ride was not too difficult, but they were still an hour away.  Elder Stow tried to keep one eye on his scanner, but it bounced too much to see it well, not to mention he needed to watch where he went.  They rode hard and fast.

Fifteen minutes from the camp, Elder Stow’s voice rang from the wristwatch communicators.  “Stop.”  People stopped, but some had to come back to hear.  “The Wolv transport has reached the camp.  The three in the scout ship that found the camp kept back to wait for the others, but they look like they will charge as soon as they form up.”

“Damn,” Baba said, in English.  He called.  “Jasmine and Cedar.”  A young fairy couple appeared, and Baba took the Wolv transmitter from Elder Stow.  “Cedar,” he said to the fairy.  “Hold this carefully.  Don’t drop it or break it.  You need to fly this ahead to the camp and when you are between the Wolv ship and the Romans, Jasmine, you need to press this button.  No!  Not until you are in between the Wolv ship and the Romans.  Now, fly.  Fast as you can.”

“Lord,” Cedar said, but Jasmine hurried him.  They flew out of sight in maybe a second.

“Good luck,” Decker said.  The others were polite enough not to say anything as they started to ride.

The travelers rode hard for ten minutes, and extra hard when they saw the smoke in the distance.  They stopped on a small incline where they could see the camp to their left and the metal edge of the scout-transport to their right, among the trees.  The palisade that protected the castellum burned and sent billows of smoke from the treated wood high into the sky.  A few trees on their right also smoldered, but Baba figured the transport main guns increased the size of the small meadow so they could land safely.

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 4 of 6

“So, Hussain has a magic carpet?”  Alexis appeared to know something, but she did not seem sure what was safe to say. Lord Baba resolved that issue.

“Three sons of Sasan.  Hussain, Ali, and Ahmed.  Hussain found the carpet that used to belong to Mithras.  He was a lazy god.  Maybe the god of laziness.  Ali found a light scope left here by the guardians.”  Baba waved off the questions.  “The guardians are people, of a sort, from the end of the fifth age in the universe.  Four and a half billion years of Earth existence fits into the fifth and sixth ages—mostly the sixth age.  Think of it like this.  From an Earth perspective, the fifth age was planetary formation, and the production of water and other compounds.  The fifth age ended with the creation of planets, like Earth, where life as we know it became possible.  The sixth age is the age of life as we know it—material life, you might say.  Life grew from microbes and invertebrates, like single-celled life, to multi-celled life, plants, and animals like fish and amphibians, leading to reptiles and birds, and us mammals.”

“We met all, or most of those as aliens in our travels.” Katie said.  “Certainly, bird people, reptiles and amphibians.”

“Lincoln Jell-O-Blobs were mostly plants,” Alexis added.

“All sixth age people,” Baba said.  “Maybe people from 6B.  The sixth age might be divided.  6A might be eons of singe-cell life, and 6B plants and animals like we normally think of life.  So you can grasp things more categorically, Earth is four-and-a-half billion years old.  Life on Earth covers about four billion of those years, with 6A covering about three-and-a-half billion years and 6B, the last half-billion.  But keep in mind, the universe is nearer fourteen billion years old.”  Baba pause to think.

“The first age was energy, simple energy, expanding from the point of creation.  Natural law began at that point, including the moral law, but I don’t want to quibble about that.  Within that context there were at least three forces that began at the beginning.  We call them time, gravity, and electro-magnetism.  The energy slowed.  No other way to put that.  “And there was light,” as they say.  Photons: little non-particle/particles that were still energy-like or contained the energy within.  The second age, the age of light went on for a long time.  The age of light ended with the formation of the first stars.  The third age, what some call the age of time, when there became night and day, saw the production of some heavier elements, the formation of neutron stars, and so on, and the first mini explosions, what you might call supernovas, like universal recycling.  The universe began to noticeably age, and the third age, the age of time, ended when the first stars died.  The fourth age, the age of gravity, saw black holes and galaxies formed around them, further slowing the energy.  The fourth age also saw the production of heavy metals and ended with the formation of the first planets, basically gaseous giants, like Jupiter planets, somewhere between planets and almost stars.”

“And the fifth age produced the light scope,” Lockhart said.

“Fifth age beings actually, yes, but in the sixth age.”

“So, what age are we in?” Lincoln asked.  

Baba continued.  “The fifth age would be the age of magnetism, or electromagnetism, like lightning, which is a natural EMP.  The fifth age that formed compounds, in particular water and ammonia, continued up to the production of proteins and other life building blocks.  It happened much earlier on older planets and is only happening now on younger planets.  Then the sixth age produced life as we know it, beginning with microscopic life through single cells and up to multi-celled life, to plants and animals, and finally independent movers and thinker, or what we call people.”

“So, intelligent life is a product of the sixth age,” Tony said, though it was really a question.

Baba shook his head.  “Life that is conscious and intelligent has been since the beginning, mostly just not life as we understand it.  The guardians at the end of the fifth age understood the fifth age, from compounds like water to the development of life’s building blocks, like protein, went on for a long time in some places.  They watched the single celled life that formed the sixth age produce some species that we might call people.  The Arania, for example.  But mostly people formed from multi-cellular life.  We might call 6B the age of people rather than simply part of the age of life.  The guardians at the beginning of the age, however, recognized material life as something fragile, in need of guarding, you might say.”

“So, all of the aliens we have run into, including the Blobs, are age 6B people,” Lincoln said, trying to understand.

“Yes,” Baba said. “The ages are not defined by hard and fast lines.  The age we are calling 6B on Earth began about five-hundred and fifty million years ago during a thing called the Cambrian explosion.  Mammals, however, only begin somewhere around one-hundred and fifty million years ago.  The Diplodachus, with many mammal-like traits, but still mostly reptiles, fit about the middle of that frame, say two-hundred and fifty million years ago.  We really don’t need to go earlier than that.”

“Diplodachus?” Katie wondered, having heard that name, but unable to pinpoint the reference.

“The mass extinction event, at the end of the Cretaceous, happened when that asteroid pounded the Yucatan, some sixty-six million years ago—when the dinosaurs mostly died off.  The Diplodachus were moved off the earth at that time.”  Baba shrugged.  He did not need to get into that long story.

“What about the flood?” Nanette asked.  “That event would put us in the seventh age?”

Baba shook his head again.  “I didn’t mean to suggest that universal ages should be determined by transient events on this little backwater planet; not even when the gods went away in the time of Christ.  Earth has been through several extinction events.  I was just suggesting the last big one as an option for pointing to the modern or mammal part of the sixth age on Earth, specifically.  Just so you can get an idea of how long these ages go on   Out there, in space, fifth age planets are still forming, and sixth age life is still developing.  It isn’t a hard and fast line.”

“So, what about elder and younger races?” Katie asked.  “Elder Stow has called his people an elder race.  How is that determined?”

“Again, not hard and fast lines.  The Gott-Druk and Elenar barely qualify as elder races, even to us Homo Sapiens.  There are many, even before the Diplodachus, that are much older elder races produced on this genesis planet.  Some consider all mammalian derivatives part of the younger races related to the 6B animal life, and some suggest 6B as a seventh age, though six ages are fairly well accepted, universally.  Personally, I hope the seventh age might be an age of rest, when we get there.”  Baba paused to let that idea sink in.  “Anyway, Ali found an abandoned guardian light scope.  With it, we can see what is happening anywhere on the planet.  It isn’t hampered by solid matter.  It sees through trees, rocks, underground, to the bottom of the ocean, or whatever.  The remarkable thing is, after a half-billion years, it still works.  It is how we saw you heading toward the Wolv trap, which you managed to avoid.”

“Lucky us,” Lincoln said.

“So, Hussain found a magic carpet and Ali an eye piece,” Alexis said, wanting to get back on topic.

“You said there were three sons,” Katie remembered.

“What about the third son?” Lockhart wondered.  He could not remember the name.

“Ahmed,” Baba said.  “He found a medical device from the end of the 6A age.  I thought Devya rounded them all up and sent them to Avalon, but he found one.  It is just a round little thing.  They call it an apple.  It has an extensive learning and diagnosis program and heals with a combination of sound and radiation.  It kills viruses and hostile bacteria, typical 6A age life, and regenerates good tissue—healthy single cells—among other things.”

“Cure cancer?”

“Easily,” Baba said.  “The point to remember is it does not belong here in this age.  Something like this can distort the whole course of natural history.  The deeper law says we mammal-like people, us primates, have to make our own way in the universe, discover our own understanding when we are good and ready, and fight our own fights.  People need to learn and earn the future for it to be worth anything.  Just to be given things, free this and free that, is always damaging to the soul.”

“But when something can do so much good,” Alexis began, and seemed to shake her head.  “It must be hard.”

“You have no idea,” Baba said.  “There is room in this universe for miracles, but for the most part, even if the gods have gone away, the rules of the gods still apply.  The gods could lead, guide, encourage, support, and point to the source so people were without excuse; but they could not do it for us.  Too little encouragement and the human race sinks into hopelessness and despair.  Too much, and we become like sheep, unable to think for ourselves, or care for ourselves or one another; expecting everything to simply be done for us.  Too little leads to things like suicide, and floods.  Too much, and we remain two-year-olds for eternity, expecting to be taken care of, always wanting more stuff, never satisfied, and throwing temper tantrums when we don’t get our way.”

“That must be a fine line to have to walk,” Lincoln said, and Alexis agreed.

“The narrow way,” Nanette called it.

“We live by faith, not by sight,” Lockhart said, and Katie agreed.

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 3 of 6

They moved an hour away before they made a camp in a hollow beside a hill.  Ali Baba sent Hussain back to his own camp with the word that he hoped to be there by noon tomorrow.  He made Schaibo stay with him, had Elder Stow put his full screens around the camp so the horses and mule would not wander, and he got down to examining the equipment before dark.

When supper arrived, Lord Baba and Elder Stow came to agree.  They imagined no remote way to short out the personal screens of the Wolv, having had only one afternoon to work on the problem; but they agreed an electromagnetic pulse would do the trick nicely, and short out the Wolv weapons besides.  The ships, with their stronger screens, would likely be shielded from the pulse, if their screens were activated.  That would be just as well.  Lord Baba planned to send the survivors, if any, back into space.  He acknowledged that the Wolv were not known to surrender, so all he could do was shrug.

“Where are we, exactly?” Katie asked, even as Lord Baba and Elder Stow came to the fire.  She and Lincoln had mostly figured it out, but they remained unsure.

“Wait,” Boston interrupted.  “What about Sukki?”

“Armenia.  Near the border of Osroene,” Baba answered Katie’s question, but looked at Boston and Sukki, showing some sense that he would address their questions in a minute.

“That does not explain much,” Lincoln said.  “We figured that out, but when?”

“Trajan died almost a year ago,” Baba said.  He put down the last piece of equipment he played with.  He had a small knife and tried to pry the thing open, but it was being stubborn.  “Hadrian is emperor now, and this is all Roman territory, but not for long.  Mesopotamia and Assyria will be traded back to the Parthians, if they aren’t already.”  He took a bite of supper and decided he better explain something.

“Trajan got guns.  He conquered all the way to the Persian Gulf and burned Susa, but we blew up his factory, cutting off his supplies, and effectively disarming him.  The Persians, Arabs and Parthians then combined to stop his progress.  The Arabs, under Lord Sasan, originally a Zoroastrian priest, sort of took over a very weakened Persia.  As usual, it is complicated, since they all still answered to the Parthian King of Kings, as he calls himself.”

“So, where are we in this mess?” Lockhart asked.

“I figure you came in around Lake Van,” Baba answered.  “That river you crossed this morning was the Tigris.”

“Yesterday, Late afternoon,” Tony interjected.  He drove the wagon at the time.

Baba nodded.  “A Wolv scout-transport with fifty or so Wolv, and three or four small craft, like the three-man scout ship we encountered, is parked on the Chaboras River, a tributary of the Euphrates, this side of Edessa.  I figure the next time gate is on the other side of the actual Euphrates, somewhere on the road between Edessa and Antioch in Roman Syria.”

“Hadrian is Emperor,” Tony said.

“He was less into conquest and more into building walls and forts and making solid borders,” Katie explained to Lockhart, but so everyone could hear.

“I suppose,” Baba said. “Now that the weapons of Trajan, the guns, have been taken away, his options for conquest are greatly diminished.  Besides, he will have to contend with the Wolv, and probably see some of his legions decimated.  There is a full Wolv battle fleet parked on the corner of Superior Moesia and Inferior Moesia, and Thrace.  That is about six thousand Wolv, like a full-strength legion of Wolv.  By the way, I haven’t detailed that for the others, so I would appreciate you not saying anything about it, when we get there tomorrow.”

People agreed to keep their mouths shut, but Boston could not help interrupting.  “But what about Sukki?”

“Sukki,” Baba said, kindly, and reached for her hands.  She slowly took his hands, afraid of what her own hands could do.  “You have nothing to be afraid of.  The goddesses who were kind enough to make you human, all wanted to give you something to help you fit in with the human race, though I can’t understand how some of the gifts might help.”

“But I had something come from my hands.  That poor Wolv got blasted.  I’m not safe,” Sukki spouted.

Baba said, “Hush, hush… You can be sure the goddesses did not give you anything without also giving you the ability to control it.  That may take some learning, or practice, but you can control it.”

“But what has she got?” Boston said, excited.

Baba turned to look first at Nanette.  “And you are learning how to lift some things?”  Nanette also looked scared.  “Telekinesis, I think, not strictly magic, or maybe some magic.  It was hard to tell, judging from the evil twin.  Nothing to be afraid of, but the ability will come and go as the Other Earth phases in and out of conjunction and you move through time.  Learn what you can do when you can, because in 1905, or whenever you get home, you will have the ability for the rest of your life.”

Nanette nodded slowly, and turned to look at Alexis, who paused in her own thoughts to hug the girl.

“Now,” Baba returned to Sukki.  “Let me see if I can list things.  Athena, or Minerva, is the only one who stuck to the plan.  She gave you what she called a fundamental understanding of physics and astrophysics, if you should be tempted by space, and the math to go with it.  Knowing Athena, you probably have doctorate level understanding of those things.  At least you should be able to understand what Elder Stow and Boston talk about.”

“That’s great,” Boston shouted, while others congratulated her.  Sukki did not look so sure.

“Mother Bastet felt concerned that you not lose track with your roots.  She let you retain your Gott-Druk strength, and enhanced it a little, I am sure.  She also gave you a glamour, like the glamour you used to have that made you look human.  It works the same, only now you can look Gott-Druk anytime you wish.”

“You should try it,” Nanette said, before anyone else could say it.  She felt a bit shy at briefly having been the center of attention and wanted everyone to focus on Sukki instead.  She decided that perhaps she and Sukki were alike in that respect; not wanting people to focus on them.  The Romans said that made her all the more fetching and fascinating, but she could not help it.  She did not like being the center of attention. She looked at Decker, but he did not look at her.

Sukki put on her glamour and sat there for a minute looking like a perfect young Neanderthal girl, though she could not see herself, she saw Boston raise her eyebrows at the change.

“Here,” Schaibo said, and pulled out a mirror as tall as himself from a little pocket in his vest.  “I got used to carrying it around for my sister.  She is a little on the vain side.”  He turned the mirror to Sukki but turned it away again when Sukki began to cry.

“It is all right,” Elder Stow spoke to comfort her. “Now, you are truly my daughter.”

Sukki nodded and wiped her nose as she let go of her illusion of being Neanderthal.  Schaibo put that big mirror back in his little pocket, without a word.

“Okay?”  Baba asked, and she nodded before he continued.

“Mother Doris wasn’t sure what to give.  Honestly, she is probably least connected to the human world and human things.  She let you keep your lung capacity, and enhanced it some, like a dolphin, she said.  You can hold your breath a really long time; and then she thought to let your body handle the cold and pressure of the deep, and sudden changes in pressure, too.  That does not make you invulnerable.  Far from it.  You may be puncture resistant, but don’t think you can’t be shot by a bullet or an arrow.  You will feel the hit, too, if someone takes a swing at you and connects.  But the bullet or arrow might not penetrate far, and you should be pretty hard to crush.  Also, I imagine the snowy cold won’t be as bad as before.”

“I don’t see how that will help her fit into the human world,” Alexis said.

“Maybe the fish world,” Lincoln said before he could stop the words from coming out of his mouth.

“Amphitrite’s mother,” Katie reminded them all.  “Doris of the sea.”

People nodded that they understood, even if they could not see how it helped Sukki be more human.

“But what about the laser blast?” Boston said, and Sukki nodded.

“Yes.  Well.  The last two, mother Frya and not-my-mother Ishtar searched your heart.  They saw the things that you wished you could do and filled you with those things.  They are both, in their own way, goddesses of love and war.  They put a weapon in your hands.  I think you can turn it down to stun people and not have to turn them to dust and ashes.  And they filled your heart with love.  Mother Frya said the capacity for love is the only thing that truly makes us human.”

“I don’t feel any different in that way,” Sukki confessed, and looked to the side like one thinking really hard.

Lord Baba nodded.  “I honestly don’t know what filling your heart with love means.”

“You said things,” Katie pointed out.  “Is there more?”

Baba shrugged.  “I am not sure.  There may be more.  I know you are stronger than human, with extra lung capacity in a self-pressurizing and cold resistant body.  You have a powerful weapon in your fingers which you can learn to control with practice.  But you also have been given some human knowledge, a way to remember your roots, and a big capacity for human love.  If there is more, we shall see.”

People paused to consider Sukki.  She quickly felt on the spot and got up to check on the horses.  After a moment, Elder Stow and Boston got up to join her, and Alexis changed the subject.

************************

MONDAY

The travelers are not out of the woods yet… I always wanted to say that. I saved it for years. Monday, the rest of the story. Until then. Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 2 of 6

Lincoln walked up from the wagon.  He had the database out and spoke as people got down from their horses.  “Apparently, the Wolv did to the Humanoids what the Androids once did to the Anazi.  They learned to be organized, developed a command structure, and learned enough to run the technology before they rebelled against their Humanoid masters.  Most… eventually all of the Humanoid houses will be torn down, and the Wolv will rampage, eating planet after planet for a thousand years before the equipment breaks beyond their ability to repair it.  They are not dumb beasts.  They are clever and capable soldiers.  But the physics of space flight, weapons and the rest, not to mention higher mathematics, is beyond them.”

“An F-15 might develop a fault and land in the desert,” Decker said.  “But it is not likely the pilot has the expertise to repair the plane and take off again.  Much less create a spare part for whatever broke.”

“A bit more complicated than that, I imagine,” Katie said.  “But probably the right idea.”

People looked at Lincoln.  He read a second longer before he answered.  “It is more like me and the microwave oven.  I use it, but if it broke, my only option is to throw it out and get a new one.  I have no idea what microwaves even are.”

“That’s easy,” Sukki said.  “They are on the short end of the radio spectrum.  These wrist communicators are microwave transmitters.”  She smiled at the one she got when Candace gave out presents.  It made her feel included, and that made her happy.  When she looked up, she saw the others staring at her.

“Way to go Sukki,” Boston praised her.

“Must come from you,” Sukki said, shyly.  “Doctor in electrical engineering and all.”  She looked away.

“There,” Elder Stow interrupted.  “The screens are up while we discuss what to do.” He got down from his horse.

“Decker screens?” Decker asked.

“Yes,” Elder stow answered with a sigh.  “Now that I have stretched this little screen device beyond all capacity, it is a small thing to make their activation one-sided, so to speak; though that is ship to ship technology on much better equipment than this toy.  Be that is it may, they should deploy that way automatically from now on.  Sadly, I have admitted that we often need to be protected when we end a threat to ourselves and to the innocent.”

“It is a sad world we live in,” Alexis said, as she and Nanette walked to the group.  “Tony has Ghost and the wagon,” she added for Lincoln.

“My dad is the best,” Sukki said, to encourage Elder Stow.  He smiled for his adopted daughter, as a stream of white light came from the edge of the woods and reflected off the screens.

People reacted by hurrying their horses to the wagon, which they used as a hitching post.  Sukki brought Elder Stow’s horse, while he stayed up front and analyzed the readouts on his scanner.  Decker went to one side, and Katie went to the other, right up to where they could feel the screens.  That tingling feeling prevented them from walking through the screens and then not being able to get back inside the protected area.

“They are in the grasses, left and right.  One is staying behind the trees up ahead.”

“I see mine,” Decker said.  He fired.  He did not miss, but the Wolv did not appear to be hit.  It stood and returned fire, though its handheld weapon had no chance of penetrating Elder Stow’s screens.  Decker fired again and nothing happened.  The Wolv got ready to charge.  Decker flipped to automatic and fired a three-round burst.  The Wolv stalled before the charge and staggered, but the bullets did not appear to penetrate.

“Try concentrated fire on the same spot,” Katie suggested.

“Just coming to that, Major,” Decker said, shortly.

“Sir,” Katie acknowledged him and turned to her own Wolv that had gotten up to charge the group.  Decker let his rifle rip, and roughly nine bullets in, something shorted out on the Wolv.  The Wolv seemed stung by the electrical discharge, but not for long as three more bullets put it down.

At the same time, the Wolv from the trees charged the group.  Elder Stow continued to fiddle with something on his scanner.  “They seem to have developed some personal screen technology,” Elder Stow said.  He pulled his weapon which Lockhart was glad to see.  Lockhart had his shotgun but figured the Wolv would have to be right up to the screen for it to be effective.  Boston also had her wand, but she could not shoot her flamethrower very far, either.

Elder Stow let the beast-person come really close before he pointed his weapon and nothing happened.  He said something like “Oops,” and fiddled with the weapon while Lockhart let off a shotgun blast and Boston sprayed it with fire.  Katie and Decker turned and added some automatic rifle fire.  Sukki put her hand up as if to ward off the claws and teeth of the beast, even if her head told her the beast could not get inside the screens.  Something came from Sukki’s hand.  A bright-white light, much stronger than the Wolv weapon.  It looked more like Elder Stow’s weapon.  The Wolv head turned instantly to dust and ash.

“What was that?” Sukki said, staring at her own hand.

“Wow,” Boston said, and added, “Let me see.”

Sukki held both hands out, a combination of curiosity and horror across her face.  People looked, not knowing what to say.  Fortunately, they got interrupted by a voice from overhead.

“Lockhart.  Not a good time to visit, as usual.  Elder Stow, please turn off your screens so we can land.”

The words sounded muffled, coming through the screens.  “Apologies,” Elder Stow said.  “I let the air circulate through the screen, the simple gaseous elements, but I minimized the circulation to muffle the growls and roars in our face.”  He worked a second longer before he added, “There.  Screen is down.”

“Ali Baba?” Lincoln called up, as the magic carpet came down to the ground.  No one answered right away as the three people who rode on the rug had to hang on until touchdown.  The driver looked like a sage, but one just thirty.  He would have to double that age before he had the expected long gray beard.  The dwarf looked like the smallest dwarf they had ever seen, but he appeared to make up for it by growing the long beard that he had to wrap around his shoulders.  He also looked like so many short people, that he did not take guff from anyone.

“Yes, Lincoln,” Ali Baba confirmed, as he stepped from the carpet, holding a primitive looking rifle.  He handed it to Decker to examine, who quickly passed it on to Katie.  “I have forty of these rifles for twenty Romans, ten Parthians and ten Arabs, some of whom are from Persia.

“Schaibo.  please make sure the Wolv are dead.  Thanks.”  He opened his arms.  “Boston.” And she rushed into the hug.  He kissed Boston’s head, like a father might hug a daughter, and turned to Sukki, but she backed away.

“No,” she said.  “It isn’t safe.”  She held up her hands covered in fairy weave gloves, to hold him off.

“Lord Baba,” Schaibo called.  “This one is missing his head.”  The dwarf held an iron club much too big for him, but he held it like one who knew how to use it.  The travelers watched the dwarf shrug and move on to the other Wolv in the grass.

“Lord,” Boston got his attention.  “Sukki has something in her hand, like a Lockhart heat-ray.  She disintegrated the Wolv head.  You have to help her.  She scared herself.”

“It is nothing to be afraid of.  You can learn to control it,” Baba said.  “But first thing’s first.  Elder Stow, would you help me gather the Humanoid personal screens from the Wolv?”

“Yes, of course,” Elder Stow said.  “I am curious about them, myself.”

“Then we need to move on to where the scout craft came down in the woods.  I need to strip some of the equipment out of it, and we need to move on again before the Wolv send a recovery crew.  Hussain, you can pack your carpet in the wagon for the time being.” He turned on the first Wolv in the grass and briefly gagged.  Apparently, Schaibo’s version of making sure they were dead was to smash the head to a pulp.

“A real magic carpet?” Nanette asked, some awe in her voice, and Hussain nodded.

“Hussain?” Alexis asked.  Lincoln and Nanette looked at her as they walked to the wagon, so she explained, sort of.  “I read a thousand and one nights as a child.”

It did not take long to reach the scout ship.  Ali Baba went away so Martok the Bospori could come and take his place.  Being a life from the far future, Martok knew and understood the equipment even better than Elder Stow.  Between the two of them, they stripped certain systems from the inside of the ship.  They loaded up the wagon that poor Ghost would have to haul.  When Ali Baba returned to his own time and place, he got Elder Stow to turn his weapon on the ship, inside and out.

“Hopefully, the Wolv won’t realize anything was taken, or what was taken, or what might be done with what was taken.”  Lord Baba shrugged.

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 1 of 6

After 72 A.D. Syria

Kairos 90: Ali of Arabia

Recording …

“Baba,” Ahmed called and came running.  “Lord Baba.  Prince Ali has his tube working again.”  He stopped outside the tent.  “Ali Baba, are you there?”

Three women poked their heads through the tent flap.  Almeria, Ali Baba’s young wife smiled for Ahmed.  Princess Nuronnihar, Prince Ali’s wife, wondered what was happening.  Peribono, Ahmed’s own wife spoke.

“Husband.  The Lord is meditating in the woods.”  Peri stepped out to give her husband a kiss.  “He will be back shortly.”  Peribono used to be a fairy princess but became human to marry Ahmed.  She still referred to Ali Baba as her lord, though he claimed he no longer had that responsibility.  Ahmed did not mind, though.  He often called the rich, older man Lord Baba.  They all did.

Almeria spoke, a sharp tone in her words.  “He is praying that his first wife, Shayrin, not learn terrible ways from the cobbler’s wife while he is away.”

“Speaking of the cobbler…” Peri said, looking over Ahmed’s shoulder.

“Prince Ahmed,” Maruf the cobbler called.  “Your brother wants to know what is taking so long.”  He also ran to the tent.  “Antares, the Parthian and Scipio the Roman are looking at all the area around.  They have seen a strange group of people headed our way.”

Ahmed reluctantly let go of his wife to concentrate.  “Have they located the Wolv?”

“They are afraid to look in that direction,” Maruf admitted.  “Scipio says the strangers on their big horses are enough to worry about.”

“Strangers on big horses?”  A gray-bearded man of some forty-six years stepped from the nearby trees, followed by two dwarfs that had a Mutt and Jeff look about them.  The one with the extra-long beard, Schaibo, stood less than two feet tall.  The other, Boffo, looked more ogre sized, but bearded, and with a bulbous dwarf nose.  He walked hunched over, not because he had to, but because he felt embarrassed by the way he towered over his fellow dwarfs.

“Yes, Lord Baba,” Maruf said.  “Antares the Parthian says if they stop for the night, they will be only half a day away, and they are headed right toward us.”

Ali Baba sighed and walked to the meadow where the tube had been set up.  They all followed.  Prince Ali stared through the eyepiece.  Aemir the elf chief, Antares the Parthian, and Scipio the Roman all stepped back when Baba tapped Ali on the shoulder.  Ali looked, and stepped back while Baba raised the stand that held the tube to accommodate his five-foot, ten-inch height.  He turned the tube the opposite direction before he looked.

“The main Wolv fleet is parked for the moment on the Oescus river.  I think that is what it is called.  They are on the triple corner of Thrace, Moesia inferior and Moesia superior.  They are no doubt waiting to see what their scouts report.”  Baba stood and looked around.  “Your lucky day, Antares.  The Romans, not Parthians will be bloodied.”  He paused and added, “Probably to the point of being a bloody mess.”  He sighed briefly imagining all that blood but spoke differently to the group.  “No telling how many scout ships or scout-transports they sent out.”  He looked again through the tube.  “The local transport has about fifty Wolv, and unlike in the past, these appear to have some weak sort of personal shields.  The shields are certainly strong enough to deflect arrows and swords.  How they will fare against the guns will be seen.”

“I saw the shredded Parthian soldiers, and the few remains of that village,” Antares said, and shivered at the memory.

“We are only forty,” Scipio said.  “Twenty Romans, ten Parthians and ten of you Arabs.  Even with forty guns.  You say they are fifty?”

“Estimate.  Based on typical transport ship size,” Baba said.

“You got us to help,” Schaibo the dwarf said, gruffly.

“How can we hope to defeat fifty of these Wolv creatures?” Antares asked.  “We should call out the army… armies.”

Scipio agreed.  “This is one where Romans and Parthians might work together.” 

“Not going to happen,” Baba said, and swung the tube the other way.  “But my friends may help.  Let’s see.  Look.  Boston and Sukki are riding back, yelling something.  Oh, shit.  A three Wolv fighter-craft just landed in their path.”  He stood and yelled.  “Hussain.”  He turned to Ali and Ahmed.  “Where’s your brother.  Hussain.”  He spoke to the rest.  “Schaibo, stick with me.  We need to get Hussain to drive his carpet.  It is an emergency.  Hussain!”

###

“Alexis did the math,” Katie said, as she and Lockhart rode in front of the line.  Alexis and Lincoln were presently driving the wagon.  Nanette and Tony stayed with them, talking about magical things.  Since entering the time zone, Nanette learned she could levitate some small things.  She got excited and scared at the same time.

Lockhart had his eyes on the flank where Colonel Decker rode.  He could not see Decker, but he thought he saw something in the sky.  He scanned the line of trees they headed toward and briefly glanced at the other flank where Elder Stow watched, before he turned to his wife.  “Sorry,” he said.  “I got distracted by… I don’t know what.  A flock of vultures, maybe.”

Katie repeated herself.  “Alexis did the math.  Christ ministered for three years before he was crucified, and we missed the whole thing.  That was eleven years before we came into the last time zone.”  Katie stopped her horse, so Lockhart stopped, and the others halted, but Lockhart did not stop the conversation.

“Probably on purpose,” Lockhart said.  “I know there are things the Kairos has kept hidden even from us, and no doubt for good reasons.  But this is one of those things where I imagine a higher power got involved.  One of my mother’s favorite expressions was we live by faith, not by sight… what?”  He finally noticed and asked.

“I’m not sure,” Katie responded. “I sense danger ahead.”

Boston and Sukki raced back from the point.  Elder Stow came riding in from the flank at the same time.  Lockhart looked, but saw no sign of Decker.  “Decker?” Lockhart spoke into his wristwatch communicator.  He got no answer before Boston arrived.

“A ship,” Boston reported.  “It landed right in our path.”

Sukki rode up.  “We did not stick around to see what kind,” Sukki confessed.

Elder Stow came from the side, his scanner barely clipped to his belt to keep it from bouncing while he rode.  “A ship,” he shouted, and when he arrived, he unclipped the scanner and turned his eyes to the screen.  “I would guess a three-man scout ship with fighter capabilities.”

Eyes turned as Decker appeared on the other flank, riding hard, though he did appear to slow a bit when he saw the group had stopped.  People waited to hear his report.

“Humanoid ship,” Decker said.  “I caught sight of two Wolv.  I didn’t see any Humanoids, but I didn’t stick around.”

Lockhart had to think.  “One thing about roads,” he said.  “While they don’t run in a straight line, they do make it possible to have a wagon, and are easier on the horses, in general.”

Katie nodded.  “But they also make it hard to detour without risking damage going across country.”

“Sukki and I could find a way through the woods,” Boston offered.

“What is the point?” Lockhart countered.  “I imagine they landed in front of us because they found us on their long-range scanner.”

“Well said,” Elder Stow offered the compliment before he confirmed the thought.  “I am sure they are studying us at a closer range.  Probably a scout ship.”

“Maybe we could talk to them, and see what they want,” Katie suggested.

“Lunch,” Decker responded.

“They want to eat us,” Sukki agreed.  “They are just being careful first.”

Avalon 7.4 People in the Middle, part 6 of 6

“My mistress has the nicest, but strangest friends,” Varina said, and she stepped up to hug Boston and Sukki with her own arms.

“I don’t know,” Sukki said.  “Ever since I became human, I really like hugs.”

“You were human before,” Alexis said, gruffly.  “And touch for every animal is very important.”

“You might say, the Gott-Druk lost touch with that truth,” Decker said.

“Ha, ha,” Elder Stow said, not laughing, but he added, “That may be why so many Gott-Druk get so grumpy.”

That evening, Lydia and Varina sat around the campfire with the travelers.  Gan Ao came, because Zhang She would expect a full report.  Presently, Zhang She, Captain Ban, and the merchant chiefs with him, and Djo-Djo, who kept begging for information about the layout of the western lands, were all in conference.  Valerion, David-Marcus, Aritides, Shehan and others were also meeting.

“I suspect they will be at least a few days, negotiating.  Then again, the local king might well get involved, and then it may be a week to ten days.  The Emperor Claudius and the Emperor Guangwu both have representatives here, though I doubt Zhang She knew this was going to happen.  But then, after the exchange of goods and the writing of letters of mutual friendship and all that stuff, I suspect we will turn and head back the way we came.”

“Zhang She will also return, I suspect, to get this news delivered as soon and safely as possible,” Gan Ao said.

“Besides,” Varina said to Lydia.  “The king’s porch has the only three rocking chairs in the world.  I am sure they will all enjoy them.”

“How would you know that?” Alexis asked, vaguely remembering their first time in Bactra back in the days of Devya and commenting on the rocking chairs she had made.

Varina looked at Gan Ao, who nodded.  They both closed their eyes and appeared to meditate, the way Decker meditated to release his eagle totem.  Both people appeared to go into a trance, and two spirits stepped free from their bodies.  The goddess Varina, daughter of the god Varuna of the Indus, and wife of the Kairos Amon Junior, came from Varina.  The god Tien Shang-Di, son of the Kairos, the Nameless god, came from Gan Ao.  They smiled for the travelers, having met them several times before in the past.

“I knew it,” Boston said, though no one was quite sure exactly what she knew.  The gods sat beside the humans they borrowed for this time, and took turns explaining themselves.

“I will be here for a time,” Tien said.  “Those possessed by the evil one will not interfere in this place.”  Tien slowly turned to a mist and somehow fit himself back into Gan Ao, who appeared to blink and come awake.

“Most of my family has gone over to the other side, and most of the Shang as well,” Tien said.  “As Captain of the ship, I will be the last.  I will travel with Gan Ao by the northern route from Kashgar until Dunhuang, which is safely in Han territory, then I will return to the Tian Shan for the last of my days.”

Lydia said, “My son.  You did well.  I am proud of you.” People understood that was not Lydia talking.

Varina said, “Sadly, I must leave my mistress, who is also my husband.  From here, I will follow the caravan trail to Kashmir and the waters of my birth.  If my father and mother will be there or not, I cannot say.  But there I will end my days.”  Varina sniffed, like one about to cry.  “But listen, my friends.  Since the days are short and the one eternal and most high may soon return, the demons have come rushing out of the pit to torment and lie to the people.  In these last days, those who steal, kill, and destroy will not be restrained by the gods as in the ancient days.  I do not know what will happen to the human race.  I do not know.”

“What did I miss?” Gan Ao said, before he saw the goddess and appropriately trembled.

“I am being called,” Varina said.  “I must go.”  Lydia stood and gave the goddess her best hug.  The goddess did cry, but just a little, before she bent down and kissed the maiden’s cheek.  As Varina the goddess slowly vanished, Varina the maiden came awake.

Varina the maid looked around at everyone.  She looked at Lydia and said, “Mistress?”  She began to cry, and Lydia hugged her and hushed her saying everything would be all right.

###

The travelers got up early, before dawn, and got ready to travel.  They stopped two nights earlier, just a few miles from the time gate.  They hoped they would have at least one day to relax. They got up early enough, as was their habit, but found the time gate moved away from them on that day, and it took them most of the day to catch up to it.

“Lydia did guess ten days,” Katie reminded everyone.  “Yesterday was day eleven.”

“They must be moving in our direction,” Boston said, as she got out her amulet to check the time gate location.  “The Romans appear to be going home, having barely gotten to the half-way point.”

“Not even,” Lockhart said.  “I was told Kashgar would have been half-way.”

“Fortunately, the Romans don’t leave first thing in the morning, unless they are on a forced march,” Tony said, and people looked at him, because he had not said much up until then.  

“What do you think will come from that meeting?” Nanette asked.

“Not much,” Lincoln spoke up.  “According to the database, it will be fifty-five years before the Han, around the year ninety-seven, send someone to try and reach the Roman Empire.  He gets about as far as the Persian Gulf.  Then another sixty-five or so years, around one sixty-six, before the Romans, by the sea route, try to reach China.  They get as far as North Vietnam.  That is in the time of Marcus Aurelius.”

“I wonder who tells Marcus Aurelius about the land of silk and how to get there?” Alexis asked as a joke, but then added, “Unless one of us has a big mouth.”

“Don’t go there,” Decker said, and mounted to ride.

“My horse is definitely Cocoa,” Sukki said.  “I’ve never had any, but I can’t wait to try it.”

“Cocoa and Strawberry,” Boston said.  “Works for me.”  Boston and Sukki were the first to go through the time gate.

************************

MONDAY

The travelers run into guns before their time, the wonders of Arabia, and Wolv beginning their invasion of the earth. Don’t Miss Ali Baba and the 40 Guns beginning on Monday. Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.4 People in the Middle, part 5 of 6

Lydia and her Romans got to Bactra before the Travelers and Zhang She’s slow moving train.  They had a meeting before entering the town and opted to remain disguised as Greco-Syrian merchants with hired mercenaries to guard the goods.  The Roman armor and weapons filled two of the wagons, covered over by tarps.

The Romans made their way to a field beside the marketplace where caravans regularly came and rested.  Of course, in town, they dared not make an identifiable Roman camp, but David-Marcus set guards through the night, just in case.  They did not expect trouble, but all the same, in the dead of the night, Lydia woke.

She kissed David’s cheek.  He mumbled and turned on his side, as she rose from her bed and slipped into her dress.  She stepped out by the well-kept fire and found Varina sitting, staring at the flames.  Lydia turned her head at the distant sound of a howl.  It sounded human, and not human at the same time.  She felt the chill in the air and put her hands toward the fire as she sat.  One of the night guards walked past before Varina spoke.

“The gods have gone away.  The demons are out of the pit, and the children are afraid in their beds,” she said. “The rulers are pretending that nothing is happening, but the people know better.  Some have fallen to the seductive darkness and become possessed with evil.  Some have been killed.”  Lydia looked up when she heard another howl.  Varina looked at Lydia.  “You may rest safe, mistress.  The demons will not come here.”

Lydia nodded and got up to step into the tent; but she only went to fetch something she could wear as a shawl against the chill in the night.

Bactra got one or two caravans per week, and most were headed for more distant locations, so the Romans hoped to hide and rest for a few days without revealing themselves.  That plan did not work, of course.

On that first full morning, Kushan soldiers came into the marketplace and expected them to offer gifts to the king.  That happened in several places, and Tribune Valerion began to fear they would arrive at the Han capitol with nothing to show for it.

“A token of respect,” Lydia suggested.  “A rug.  Some more glass beads.  And a small bag of gold and silver coins should do it.  Just make sure there are no coins that might be identified as Roman coins.”

In front of the king, Shehan spoke in Aramaic with David and Aritides.  They avoided speaking in Greek which would certainly be understood.  They absolutely avoided any words in Latin, and that was why Valerion did not go with them.  Valerion did Latin and Greek, but he stumbled on Aramaic.  They spoke casually, like men who did not expect anyone to understand them.  But their words were carefully planned, assuming that even in Aramaic, someone would understand and later translate for the king.

“We are poor merchants from Syria and Armenia who had to spend too much of our money on cheap mercenaries to guard us in the wilderness.  We are not rich Parthians who come bearing gifts for kings.  We hope only to reach Kashgar and find a merchant of the Han who may have precious silk for us to carry into the west.  That would make this trip worthwhile and help feed and care for our families when we return.  We have traveled for one hundred and fifty days and are dusty and weary.  We will travel a whole year before we reach home again.  Presently, we are grateful to the Bactrian people, to the Lords of the Kush, and to the king of this wonderful city for providing a place to rest in our journey, and we are glad to offer a token of our gratitude.  The rug, soft for your feet, has golden threads woven into the fabric by the lovely women of Armenia.  The glass beads and jar are from Syria, made with great care under the searing heat of the desert sun.  And let us humbly share a fair bit of the gold and silver, what little we have, with which we hope to buy the silk to bring to our home.  Perhaps, if we are successful, on our return, the king might accept a roll of silk for the kindness you have shown us.”

The king was in a good mood that day, and said he appreciated the gifts and wished them well.  It was always touch and go in such situations.  One king in a bad mood, and they might lose everything.  Then again, kings sometimes offered gifts in return, so it became more of an even exchange.  The king of Bactra offered nothing, so he could not have been in that good a mood.

The next day, the travelers with Zhang She came into town.  The Romans needed to make room in the field, but it was not too bad.  Two caravans at once was not normal, but not that unusual.  A third might be a tight squeeze.

Boston wanted to run off and find Lydia right away, but Lockhart made her, and everyone else, bring the horses and Ghost with the wagon to a secure place.  Then he insisted they make camp before they ran off shopping.

“Hey!” Alexis protested the obvious sexist comment.

“Not a bad idea, actually,” Katie said.  “I haven’t been shopping in a long time.”

“Might be fun,” Nanette agreed.

“Can I go now?” Boston whined, like a teenager, and Sukki giggled.

“Yes, you can go,” Katie said, but when Boston turned to run off, she saw two women already standing there.  The trouble was, Boston did not know which one was Lydia.

“Hello, Boston, dear,” Varina said, and Boston ran to her but stopped short.  Varina was a goddess, but not her goddess.

Boston lowered her eyes and heard clearly in her head, “Don’t say it out loud.”  She looked up and saw Lydia had her arms open.  She rushed into the hug.

“You almost fooled me,” she said.

“I said it would not work,” Varina admitted.

Lydia said nothing.  She gave Sukki a much-appreciated hug, and then introduced her followers.  “Varina takes care of me in this wild land.  My husband, David-Marcus, is with Tribune Valerion, the Decurio, Aritides, and Shehan the merchant chief meeting the Han, with Crumbles the imp-head to interpret.”

Lincoln, Decker, Tony, and Elder Stow walked up to hear what the women were saying, and to watch the two men with them.

“David insisted I be escorted by these soldiers around the strange looking men.  Tobias is the Staff Sergeant or Master Sergeant of the company.  Jonathan is the signifier, which is the standard bearer, and he doubles as paymaster.”

“Good to meet you,” Lincoln said, and introduced the travelers.  Only Jonathan had something to say, and it got directed to Boston.

“I love your red hair.  Are you Gaelic?”

Boston looked at the man, and his smile, and said, “I’m an elf and married.  Sorry.”

Avalon 7.4 People in the Middle, part 4 of 6

Boston, Sukki, Captain Ban and a dozen of his soldiers rode back from the point with a warning.  The ones out front stopped, and eventually, the whole train came to a stop.  Yuezhi bandits were hidden in the grass and small hills of the open land, ahead, just on the other side of the trees.  They could not say how many, though certainly thirty.  No doubt many more.  The hill suggested a small army.

“Not good,” Zhang She said.  “I had hoped we lost them once we got free of Pamir.”

“Elder Stow, can you get a fix on them?” Katie asked.

“I’ll take a look,” Decker volunteered and stepped from the group to sit and meditate.”

“Captain Ban…” Zhang She started to give orders, but Lockhart interrupted him.  

“Wait until we see what we are dealing with.”

It did not take long for Elder Stow to report.  “The scanner says three hundred and seven human life signs.  There appear to be less than a hundred horses ahead.  Here, let me show you.”  He held up his scanner and projected a holograph of the area ahead.  “See.  We are in blue, here, on this side of the group of trees.  I am green.  Boston does not appear, but I would make her red.  The bandits are all in yellow, which is the color of danger.  See the dots, here, just on the other side of the trees.  They are on both sides of what you call the road, and on this side, up this hill.”  He paused to let Gan Ao and Zhang She stare.

“No,” Elder Stow said before Katie or Lockhart could ask.  “I could put a stationary screen around this big a group, but not one we could move with.  Too many obstacles to account for on such a large projection.  Trust me.  And a Decker Wall will not stretch nearly far enough to cover even one whole side of the group, in case you were thinking of those things.”

“They are not moving?” Boston asked.  “I figured they would move, once they were seen.

“No,” Elder Stow shook his head.  “Not moving.”

“Because they certainly saw us,” Captain Ban said.

“They tried to shoot us,” Sukki added, with a little huffing and puffing, like she ran away, personally.

Katie pointed at the projection.  “They appear to be settled down.  My guess is they are arguing.  They probably believe you saw a few bandits, like thirty at most, and you will expect them to flee once your big group appears.  There is no reason you should expect three hundred and seven ready to spring an ambush.”

“They are probably also mad that some jumped too soon,” Captain Ban said.  “We escaped unharmed.”

“Decker?” Katie called as Alexis, Tony and Nanette came up to ask what was happening.  Decker also came, and he had a plan, having seen the land ahead through the eye of his eagle totem.

“Captain Ban.  You already have your troops divided to march along the left and right sides of the train.  Send one group to where the trees end, and then follow the far side of the trees to the back of a hill.  The enemy is hidden in the rocks on the other side of the hill, but it does not look steep.  You should be able to climb up and easily see them.  You can fall down on them from above and drive them out on to the road, then use the rocks and the height as cover for your own troops.”

“And the others?”

“Send your other group three hundred yards the other way.  That is, three hundred large paces.  Send them through the woods and have them spread out in the grasses and stay hidden.  Tell them to get their bows and arrows ready and try to not be seen.  If the bandits want to stay off the road to avoid soldiers and civilians, they will have to run through the grass where your archers will be waiting.”

“You got it all figured?” Lockhart said.

Decker nodded.  “Elder Stow can put his screen around us in the front.  We will move to the exit from the woods and a little way out into the open area beyond.  The train can move up some but stay behind us and stay in the woods to not be exposed.  We can occupy the bandits’ attention while Captain Ban gets his two groups in position.”

“Will you not fear to risk your lives so?” Zhang She asked, concerned about his guests.

“Elder Stow’s screen will protect us,” Katie said, only to be interrupted by Alexis.

“Nanette and I will bring up the wagon.  We will send Lincoln to you, but I have no intention of participating in killing people if I don’t have to.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Nanette agreed, and they wheeled around and rode back down the line to their wagon, gently nestled behind the wagon for Zhang She’s things and the wagon for the map maker.

Captain Ban sent six men off to get each column to do their job, but he and a half-dozen riders stayed with him in the front.  Gan Ao rode down the line to tell the wagon drivers to stay in line, move up, but stay on the road and in the woods.  Zhang She stayed close, not willing to miss what this screen business was all about.   They waited a half-hour, to allow the troops time to get in position, then they moved slowly through the woods.

Elder Stow had his scanner out and kept one eye on it.  He had his screen device hooked to it, as usual, and spoke.  “A few more horses than expected, but I have programmed in the trees and ground, so they will not be disturbed by our passage.”  They got partially exposed when Elder Stow said, “Stop.  Stop moving.”  The group stopped moving.  “There is a boulder underground ahead.”  He flipped a couple of switches and slid his fingers on the device.  “A bit larger… Around the boulder… Okay.  Move on.”  The people moved until they became completely exposed.  They stopped again when they saw the first head pop up from the ground.

Decker fired.  The man spun and fell.  A rain of arrows followed.  Zhang She and several horsemen wailed before the arrows struck and bounced off Elder Stow’s screen.  Two dozen men rushed up with long spears.  They also bounced off the screen, and Lockhart ordered Decker not to kill them unless they went around and headed toward the wagons.

“Now,” Captain Ban said, looking up at the top of the hill.  “Now, already.”

About eighty horses came from around the hill in a cavalry charge.  Elder Stow got quickly down and set his screen device against the ground.  “if I did not set this in a solid location, the horses would have pushed me right off my horse and thrown me back some distance, with the screens driven back as well.  But by setting the screens, they should bounce off like the arrows.”

Katie imagined letting the horses break on the screens would be cruel.  She flipped her rifle to automatic and Decker saw and did the same.  Katie, at least, imagined shooting and killing a few horses in the front to stall the charge would be kinder.  She and Decker opened fire.  Horses certainly went down.  The charge stalled as expected, then Decker actually stopped firing first.

Lincoln fired behind them.  “Tony and I are watching the rear.”  Some bandits were trying to find a back door to the screens.

“I’ll help,” Boston said, and she pulled out her wand and shot a stream of fire to one side and then the other.  No bandits got badly burned, but they all decided to run.

Then the men sent to the hill came pouring down on the enemy among the rocks, and things happened very fast.  The men in the rocks tried to escape down the hill.  The men in the grass on that side of the road got caught up in the panic.  The horsemen, utterly confused, rode off across the field, which got the men in that field to abandon their position.  They ran into a wall of arrows, and Boston thought it looked like more arrows than she expected.  She got mad and yelled, full volume.

“Brusher.  Cut that out.  If any of you folks get hurt, Lydia will yell at me, now, come on.”  She did not notice any slack in the number of arrows, so she decided not to look.

Plenty of bandits, in particular, the ones on horseback, made it through the line of archers and escaped.  Plenty escaped by turning and running down the road until they got far enough away to head across country.  But quite a few bandits got put down, and they only had to wait a while as Captain Ban’s men made sure the ones left behind were indeed dead.

Boston got a quick visit from Brusher and his band of gnomes.  They wanted to assure her that none of them got hurt, so maybe she would not mention it to Lydia.  Boston wondered why they got involved in the first place.  Brusher said the god, Tien Shang-Di ordered them to.

“No good can come from avoiding what the god says.  The law says we have to listen and obey the gods.  It is part of our job, you know.”

Boston nodded and said she would not tell Lydia, but then pointed out that Lydia probably already knew.  As she watched the gnomes disappear back into the wilderness, she wondered what they would do when the gods finally and fully went away.  That was happening very fast, from her perspective, traveling though time the way she was.  She feared briefly that the little spirits of nature might run amok, being suddenly set free without the gods looking over their shoulders.  But then she remembered that her god, the Kairos, would still be active in the world.  Besides, the little ones, like the human race, had over four thousand years of learning, training, and growing up.  Hopefully, they had matured enough in that time to stick to their tasks and not run wild.

“Time to grow up and start adulting,” she said out loud, without explaining to anyone.  She called Sukki to join her out on the point.  Captain Ban and some of his soldiers also joined them.